Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

The Fertility Mother                                                                                                                  

The concept of a Fertility Mother is widespread throughout aboriginal Australia (Elkin, 1954; Stanner, 1959-61; Berndt, 1951a, 1952a). The Wawalag were sometimes associated with Kunapipi (Gunabibi), one name for a mythical woman responsible for creating human beings and instituting sacred rituals. She too is called the Mother, or old Woman. In some stories the Wawalag are identified with 2 of her daughters, called Mungamunga, and the Julunggul python with the python or Rainbow Snake belonging to the Kunapipi series.  In some versions of the Wawalag Sister stories they are associated with the Djanggawul Sisters, who were regarded as creative beings.

Kunapipi (Gunabibi) is called Galwadi and Gadjeri, in the central west of the Northern Territory and in the area around the Daly River and Port Keats, among the Guirindji, Malngin, Njining and Djaru, Gugudja and Walmadjeri from the Victoria River district across to the eastern Kimberleys. (Meggitt, 1955, and 1962 for the Wailbri) (from Berndt & Berndt, 1964).

Much of the area that stretches eastward between the East Alligator River and the coast on the Gulf of Carpentaria, is made up of very hilly country, with rocky hills, sandstone ridges, gorges and creeks. Many of these rock formations have been associated with various Dreamtime beings. The rainbow, Ngaljod, transformed many of these beings into the rocky formations by swallowing them and vomiting up their bones becoming the formations that still house their spirits. The translation of the term used by the Aboriginal People is 'they came into dreaming' (Berndt & Berndt, 1964). The Gunwinggu use the term djang for this type of representation. A djang, an object, creature or spirit, containing some power or essence that derived directly from the dreamtime.

Some djang sites were believed to be dangerous to certain people, such as women or children, or all but the very old, or were taboo. A few places are believed to be so dangerous that everyone avoided them. The Gunwinggu word for such sites was -djamun, set apart, hedged with prohibitions, not for every day use (Berndt & Berndt, 1964). The same word is used for the men's sacred dancing grounds, sacred sites and objects, and food that is to be consumed during rituals. Mostly, the djang were of lesser importance than the Dreamtime beings such as Ngaljod, and are associated with specific localities, and with a limited range of influence.

Some, such as Wuragag (Tor Rock), a prominent landmark, are more widely known than others. Even when people know the name of a particular place, unless it is directly related to a person or his/her relatives, they may not know the myths associated with that place, often not even the basic story.

The ubar, is one of the most sacred objects. It is a long wooden gong in the shape of a hollow log. To the Gunwinggu, it represented the uterus of the Mother, who is sometimes identified as Ngaljod, the Rainbow.

Sources & Further reading

  1. R.M. & C.H.Berndt, The world of the First Australians, 1964, Ure Smith, Sydney
Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 30/09/2011
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